The Comdex story
I came to Fall COMDEX to find the answer to our company's multimedia problems. I was full of excitement about the Web, the Internet, DVD and all the new stuff. It was all brilliant, all fantastic. I could see the future everywhere, and it was all coming soon. Well maybe, or was it all hype? When I blew away the fluff, what was there? What was there that I could go back to the office and recommend as our company's multimedia platform for the next few years?
Let me tell you, our company is a bit conservative. The directors like to see what they are buying, talk to people who are using it and know that it will last several years before it is obsolete. And that's not easy with state of the art, cutting edge, pie in the sky, here today, gone tomorrow technology. The other thing my company does, is hold people accountable when they screw up.
This is my situation. Our company wants to go directly from slides, overhead projectors and pocket calculators, to a CD-ROM computer with Internet links that plays full motion video, can be operated by everyone in the company including the fork-lift driver - all this without any training. The Sales Department wants to be able to use it on the golf course, and Accounting wants it done for a little more than the cost of linear video.
Well I found a multimedia platform that will actually do all these things. One that is available now, has been tried and tested and is being used by a lot of our competitors. They call it the "Best Kept Secret in Multimedia." The problem is perception. You see, this answer to all my wishes is called CD-i, and it used to be considered a game machine. I dare not recommend a "game machine;" I would be fired. On the other hand, if I recommend a whole bunch of new technology that does not arrive on schedule, is too expensive and which nobody understands, I will be fired anyway. So what if I introduced CD-i but called it "Interactive Television Based Compact Disc Technology," or ITB-CDT - that's being creative.
Now let me explain why I am so excited about CD-i. One, it does not scare me. It's all so familiar. The CD-i disc is the same disc as an audio CD, and I have plenty of those. CD-i can fit over an hour of full motion digital video with CD quality sound and total interactivity, all on the one disc. Two, it plays on a television, not a monitor - another big advantage. Even in our company, everyone is familiar with television, and a remote control does not intimidate people like a keyboard does. Now, the third great thing, is that you can buy an expansion board that fits into a PCI bus, on either a PC or a Mac. So one can output CD-i to a VGA screen and either an NTSC or PAL monitor, simultaneously if you wish, using a computer. This means all the really clever guys back in the MIS department will not feel left out.
I was really surprised by the things a CD-i player can do these days - since it went Professional that is. Today a CD-i player can be connected to the Web, a printer, a telephone, a computer, a network, a VCR or a video projector. You can control a CD-i player with an infrared remote, a touch screen, a joystick, a mouse, a keyboard or even a light pen. A CD-i player can read bar codes and magnetic strips, transfer data, track and audit test scores, and log user IDs. A CD-i player can incorporate motion detection, multi-channel audio, point and click menus, and pointerless menus. These menus can be animated, talking, scrolling or pop-up menus. You can even write or draw on the screen over moving pictures. In short, this television based, multimedia technology can do almost everything that computers can do. Well of course CD-i is a computer, or at least, it has a microprocessor. The difference is that just like my microwave, with a CD-i player, the computer is totally hidden. The user never loads a file, never configures a Con.Fig. System, and the only error message is "your disc may be dirty."
CD-i, is what CD-ROM should have been - a user friendly computer. So The Board of Directors will be happy. We can adopt multimedia by using a technology we all understand. Sales and Marketing will be delighted to know that they can have portable battery powered CD-i players that work just fine on the golf course. When I tell Marketing that by using a CD-i player with a modem connected to a television, they will be able to browse the Web without a computer, they will be intrigued. When I explain that they can have a Web site that appears to have instantaneous, full screen video, they will be thrilled. You see, by storing the video assets on the CD-i disc and using icons on the web-site to trigger the CD-i player, our corporate Web site will appear to play full screen, digital video, at thirty-two frames per second, instantly. Also when our customers are playing a CD-i title (which marketing can supply), they can, by selecting the correct button, contact the Web site and download information such as price or delivery. This is done as quickly as a computer, and the entire operation will be totally transparent to the user. With the expansion board, they even will be able to do this over the corporate network. The Accounting department will approve when they see that a CD-i player, capable of playing digital video, costs less than $500 and works with a standard television. We have lots of televisions. They will have trouble believing me when I tell them the portable player costs less than $1,900 and works for over an hour on one battery, even when playing interactive digital video. Also if we put a touch screen television and a CD-i player into our new interactive kiosks, they will cost less that $2,000 each, which means they can afford several more kiosks and still stay under budget.
Apart from being simple to use, CD-i is the only multimedia platform that has both a base-case and a world standard It will play any CD-i disc, in any player, anywhere in the world. And I nearly forgot, platform stability. A CD-i title created today, will play on the first CD-i player ever built and every player built since then. That should satisfy the long life requirement. What about the future. Well, at least one manufacturer of CD-i players has promised that their DVD player will have a cartridge to enable the new player to play existing CD-i titles. So when the new age eventually dawns, we will be ready with a library of titles to play on the new player. In the mean time, I think I have found my answer. I have really enjoyed this COMDEX. For a techie like me, all this new stuff is heaven. However with my job on the line, I am going to recommend CD-i or "ITB-CDT."